North Grafton, Ma. — Nothing about Cara Kneser points to a typical veterinary graduate.
At age 49, she is at least 20 years older than most of her classmates. And while those classmates were focused on classes
and studying and jobs, Kneser also had a husband and four children to consider.
27 years in the making: Dr. Cara Kneser (above and right photos) receiving her diploma from Tufts Dean Deborah Kochevar.
Kneser: It was worth the wait.
But the late nights and hard work paid off.
Twenty-seven years after a fateful decision not to pursue her dream, she earned the degree from the Cummings School of Veterinary
Medicine at Tufts University and officially became a DVM.
"It's still surreal," she said on a summer afternoon, just back from picking up her daughter from softball practice. "I had
someone ask me, 'do we call you Dr. Kneser or Dr. Cara?' I said, 'Are you kidding? Just call me Cara. It's really exciting."
Born in New York City, Kneser knew from childhood that she wanted to be a large-animal veterinarian.
She chose Cornell University and earned a bachelor's degree in animal science in 1983 with every intention of heading straight
to veterinary school.
"I don't know what was wrong with me," she says of her decision not to go. "Everyone told me you have to have a 4.0 — which
I didn't — and straight A's to get into vet school, and I listened."
Instead Kneser headed to New Jersey and took a job at a dairy farm. She ended up "marrying the boy next door," and they bought
a farm in upstate New York.
Even though they ended up selling the farm, she found jobs at dairy farms.
And in 2003 that childhood dream came calling again. "I told my husband this is something I've always wanted to do," she said.
"I needed to do this."
Kneser attended Eastern Connecticut State University for two-and-a-half years to take a number of prerequisite classes like
organic chemistry and microbiology before she could apply to vet school.
She juggled classes and a full-time job while trying to keep up with activities and schoolwork for Dan, a high-school student
at the time; Sam and Margit, both in middle school, and 3-year-old Katherine. She said she couldn't have done it without her
Kneser earned a degree in biology and applied to Tufts, but was rejected.The second time she applied proved to be the charm.
She was accepted.
With a strong sense of humor, a solid support system at home, and her life-long dream pushing her forward, Kneser quit her
job and headed to Tufts — 80 miles away from her Bozrah, Conn., home.
"We live in a very small town," she explains. "At the beginning of each year I would go to the elementary school and say 'we
can do no projects this year.' Of course I found myself a few months later creating an Indian village out of clay thinking
the whole time, 'I really should be studying anatomy right now.'"
For four years, Kneser made the almost three-hour, round-trip drive to Tufts.